I was born and raised in a poor rural farming community in North Cotabato, Philippines. Every morning as I go to school, I can see farmers working on their rice fields. Under the scorching sun, with bodies bent toward the soil, they carefully plant rice. In the afternoon, as I walk my way home, I can see some of these farmers buying one to two kilos of rice – with either dried fish or canned sardines packed altogether in a plastic bag. They’re going home after the long, tiring day.
Farmers face a lot of challenges everyday. Expensive farm supplies, new breed of pests, very small to no return of investment, little support from the government and other relevant sectors, and climate change. They are food producers who are food poor, and one of the country’s poorest sectors.
This scenario still continues as a cycle, not just in my community, but in many rural farming areas in the Philippines. Since our team in Food SECURE Ph focuses on the empowerment of farmers in rural poor communities, the same issues remain prevalent. Food insecurity, being poorest of the sectors, lack of empowerment and support – these continue to dim the light of our farmers in agriculture.
On the global context, it is expected that in the year 2050 – there will be more than 9 billion people in the planet. More resources will be needed to meet basic human needs: food, water, shelter. There is a need to do more with less, since we will have less of everything due to our population and consumption patterns. In agriculture, this will be the greatest challenge: feed the hungry planet with less resources. This will be the challenge of our future farmers.
What if our farmers give up on being farmers? What if they’ll get tired of the same old ways? What if they’ll sell their farms for commercial use? What if they’ll not see the purpose of what they do anymore? What if they’ll give up on us?
What can be done to change these “what ifs”?
1. Invest on the needs of farmers
Our farmers in the Philippines need empowerment, appreciation, and support. They need access to quality and affordable farm supplies that can guarantee them good returns. They also need the knowledge, skills, and technologies to combat the present challenges of the changing climate.
Investment on the health of farmers, and financial and business literacy should also be a priority of our government and other stakeholders. Our farmers need to be healthy and business-minded to advance the agricultural sector.
2. Inclusive growth for smallholder farmers in rural areas
Smallholder farmers are very important in our food system. They will play a big role in feeding our hungry planet in the next decades to come. Most importantly in rural areas where the farms and farmers are full of potential.
With this, there’s a need of public and private partnerships with the smallholder farmers in rural areas. Businesses and government sectors should consider directly buying agricultural products from smallholder farmers, and not through middlemen. This will advance inclusive growth, rural development, and win-win partnerships.
3. Into Sustainable Ecological Agriculture
Agricultural development should not cost the imbalance of our ecosystem. Agriculture can contribute in lessening carbon footprint, and our farmers can play a big role in achieving this. Responsible use of agricultural resources like water, land, and chemicals can significantly decrease carbon footprint.
4. Focus on innovations
Innovations that can truly help our farmers should not be kept in laboratories or libraries; it should be brought to them in the field where the real problems are.
The scientific community working on agricultural innovations should also be fair on the price of their products and services. Affordable and efficient innovations can be the best way our farmers can use to advance agriculture, and also their quality of life.
5. No to food waste
Food waste is an insult to our farmers. Respecting our food by consuming what is enough for us is a way of respecting our farmers who worked hard to produce it.
Moreover, food waste is a global problem, and a challenge to sustainable development. Globally, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food are lost or wasted every year. This can actually feed the world’s hungry and food poor – including our farmers. So make sure your next meals will not contribute to this statistics.
6. Youth in agriculture
The average age of a Filipino farmer is 57. On an important note, the Filipino youth has little or no interest in agriculture. With ageing farmers and uninterested youth, how will the future of our agricultural sector look like?
The youth should be empowered to contribute to our agriculture sector. Scholarships in agriculture should be prioritized by relevant stakeholders. Youth, especially in rural farming communities should be empowered with advanced knowledge and skills in agricultural developments and innovations.
I believe some of us have already given up on our farmers through: ignoring their challenges and needs, placing them on a certain social pedestal, contributing to food waste or just don’t care about them. But let’s not wait for the time when our farmers will give up on us. It’s time to rethink how each of us can help them, even in small ways. It is always in small ways that we can achieve great things.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Christine Jodloman is an agriculture and food security advocate. For writing collaborations, you may contact her at email@example.com.